‘Cozy Classics’ tackle ‘Oliver Twist,’ ‘Emma,’ 12 words at a time

Cozy classics
Jack and Holman Chen condense classics into 12 words and pictures.
Credit: Simply Read Books

Baby. Work. More. Street. Meet. Bad. Bed. Back. Sneak. Oh! Country. Family.

Congratulations! You just read “Oliver Twist” in 12 words – or at least, Jack and Holman Wang’s take on it. The twin brothers are the brains behind Cozy Classics, a series of children’s block books that condenses classics like “Pride and Prejudice” and “War and Peace” into just 12 words and unusual illustrations of needle felted characters. The brothers have just added “Oliver Twist,” “Jane Eyre” and “Emma” to their collection, and plan to release “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in the spring.

The books are a far cry from the splashy, cartoonish block books that fill up children’s bookshelves. Jack Wang, who is a writing professor at Ithaca College, said he wanted something different for his daughters after reading aloud tons of insipid board books about barnyard animals. “There was something uninspired about the genre, so I asked myself, how can they be wittier, funnier, more beautiful? How can they appeal to adults as much as to kids and have a sense of narrative as well?” said Jack. “That’s where I came across the idea to abridge classics.” Jack enlisted his brother Holman to help him, and they decided the best way to shorten canonical works was to simply use one word per page.

“We didn’t want parents to be slaves to the text,” said Holman. “We knew if we put one sentence on each page the parents would read it and then just move on. With one word, parents are free to storytell and elaborate and the books are more relevant for a longer period of time.” The Wangs pointed out that the books are so simple, parents can even read them to an infant, but the bare bones format means that the books appeal to an older audience – adult readers can project their own interpretations onto the words and scenes. Even high schoolers are getting in on the trend.

“My high school teacher used our book as a basis for an exercise in her Advanced Placement English class,” said Jack. “She asked them to present books like ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Catch 22′ in 12 words and 12 pictures and it really challenged the student to know the story well but present the essential narrative element.” Jack said he also uses the books in his own English classes at Ithaca College.

cozy classics
Each page of the Wangs’ Cozy Classics books features just one word.
Credit: Metro / Simply Read Books

Even for the Wangs, condensing a book that is thousands of words long down to 12 words is a huge challenge. Jack said he takes the first crack at 12 words and Holman keeps him honest. “The focus is on the main narrative arc,” said Jack. “You can’t get into the secondary characters and secondary plots. And you can’t choose any 12 words – it’s not just 12 words but 12 child appropriate words.” Jack said even after that process, they have an editor who may suggest changes to the 12 words. Holman added that sometimes, after they are finished with the illustrations, they have to reconsider the words as well. The brothers also said that one misconception about books is that the 12 words must represent 12 separate, pivotal scenes. “If you just pick the 12 most memorable scenes, that doesn’t work because you need to have the emotional turn,” explained Holman.

The brothers both needle felt the characters themselves for the block books, and Holman takes photos. The books, like their predecessors, are occasionally gloomy. “Oliver Twist” is illustrated with earth tones and Oliver barely cracks a smile throughout most of the book. “Each book has its own set of tones and creates a different sense of place and mood,” explained Holman. “We try to basically stay true to the spirit of a particular novel.” The Wangs also argued that children’s books don’t need to be cheery. “Kids are more drawn to darkness than you’d think,” said Holman. “Maurice Sendak once said in an interview there’s this presumption that childrens books should be healthy and cheerful and upbeat and not show the little tattered edges of life, but that’s all he knew and that’s what he showed in his books.” He added, “We’re trying to get away from fluffy bunnies and pink princesses.”

Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Pennsylvania police shooter manhunt near home of suspect's…

A police manhunt intensified on Friday for the gunman who killed an officer and wounded another in an ambush at a Pennsylvania police barracks a week ago.

Local

MAP: New York City street closures, September 19,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on September 19, 20 and 21. There will be many streets and…

Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Television

'Outlander' Season 1, Episode 7: 'The Wedding'

Claire and Jamie are man and wife!!! Like, ALL THE WAY, if you know what we mean. (Twice.)

Movies

Kevin Smith makes peace with the Internet

I was thinking about Ain't It Cool News and Harry Knowles last night, wondering if anyone from Ain't It Cool had reviewed my new movie…

Movies

Art imitates life in 'Swim Little Fish Swim'

There's a certain comfort to be taken in finding that young artists are still moving to New York and trying to make it — and…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

NFL

Oday Aboushi ready for increased role, and to…

Oday Aboushi might feel comfortable enough to engage in some trash talk the next time he is on the field.

NFL

Giants vs. Texans: 3 things to watch

The Giants host the surprising Texans (2-0) in what may already be a must-win game for Big Blue.

NFL

Eric Decker misses practice again, could miss Monday

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker missed practice Thursday as he continues to rehab a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday.

MLB

Derek Jeter still focused on baseball as final…

Derek Jeter has effectively hid his emotions for 20 years in the Bronx.

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…